Fire is the essence of the Fourth. This day in Elizabeth begins with the parade, a tradition that persists in face of erosion of the public square. In this place the parade itself marks the public square, circling the courthouse twice for good measure. Fire and those who fight it keep the heartbeat of the county going. Fire engines lead the way and the children who ride inside the cab toss smiles and candy to those who wait on the sidewalks.. There are old cars, and a newly crowned princess. The new recruits in the marching band make a fine showing until the drum major turns right as the firetrucks go left. They catch up again at the corner and fall in behind Smoky the Bear.
Eight well-polished fire engines are announced by sirens that disturb as well as reassure. It reminds me of one of Bishop William Boyd Grove’s sermons heard years ago. The paradox of the siren’s sound is the paradox of prayer. We hear it and know it means trouble. “Lord, have mercy!” We pray for whoever needs both help and mercy. We hear the siren again and then we pray, “Lord, have mercy.” knowing that help is already on the way.
The trucks are red, the T-shirts orange, the color of fire. These volunteers begin their training early. It’s an equal opportunity opportunity for the young in a community that’s short on jobs. Dedication and discipline are the bottom line, not educational or economic advantages. Volunteer Fire Departments makes it possible to live in small communities with a sense of safety. It helps to know your Good Samaritan lives next door.
After the parade is over, there’s homemade ice cream, pies and cakes, hot dogs, and hot gospel groups, as well as the chance to win door prizes. When night falls, the fire lights up the sky, with fireworks that signal the end of the holiday. When this new station, built by volunteer labor, is completed, and the weight bearing beams that form its cruciform structure is concealed by brick and mortar, this community will remember where to find its heart.